Lawyer on Mickey Mouse NFTs: ‘You cannot suddenly make your own Mickey products’
NFT News

Lawyer on Mickey Mouse NFTs: ‘You cannot suddenly make your own Mickey products’

Lawyer Oscar Franklin Tan told Cointelegraph that people cannot use Steamboat Willie’s version of Mickey to make anyone think their work is affiliated with Disney.

Lawyer on Mickey Mouse NFTs: ‘You cannot suddenly make your own Mickey products’

A lawyer has warned the crypto community about the limitations of using “Steamboat Willie,” a copyright formerly owned by Disney but now available in the public domain. 

On Jan. 2, nonfungible tokens (NFTs) using a version of Mickey Mouse that appeared in the “Steamboat Willie” short film in 1928 made it to the trending collections list of the NFT marketplace OpenSea. One of the collections reached a 24-hour trading volume of 521 Ether

While this allows people to use the 1928 version of the Disney character, there are limitations to what people can do, according to Oscar Franklin Tan, the chief legal officer of Atlas, a core contributor to NFT platform Enjin. Tan told Cointelegraph that while it’s “heartwarming” to see the public ownership of a cultural icon celebrated on the blockchain, there are also legal limits when it comes to using the character. He said: 

“Only the specific 1928 depiction of Mickey Mouse, the scarier black and white character with a longer nose and no gloves, is public domain, under U.S. law. Mickey Mouse, the trademark and brand, separate from the character, is still private. You cannot suddenly make your own Mickey products.”

Tan added that Mickey, the full-color sorcerer from 1940, is still private. In addition, the lawyer highlighted that the 1928 depiction of Mickey is still private in countries where the legal countdown is different. 

When asked about using the 1928 depiction of Mickey in NFTs, the lawyer said that anyone using this must clarify that they are not affiliated with Disney. Tan explained: 

“The NFT you saw was specifically called ‘Steamboat Willie’, and it was made clear this refers only to the 1928 version, even if ‘Mickey’ is on his T-shirt. Anyone using Mickey version 1928 would want to make it clear their creation or product is not affiliated with Disney, the trademark owner.” 

The lawyer added that copyright law protects artistic expression. However, Tan said that trademark law separately protects the identification of the source of the product. “So, you can’t use Steamboat Willie to make anyone think your work is affiliated with Disney.”

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